Thursday, December 29, 2011

Where Am I?: City Living

Where Am I?: City Living: I recently got back from a rather amazing trip to Istanbul and it got me thinking about the aspects of a city that make it appealing. I have...

City Living

I recently got back from a rather amazing trip to Istanbul and it got me thinking about the aspects of a city that make it appealing. I have had the good fortune to see a number of interesting places all over the world and I would have to say my favourite three metropolises have been Edinburgh, Scotland; Prague, Czech Republic; and the aforementioned Istanbul in Turkey. I also think Vancouver is a fantastic city but I disqualified it as it is basically my hometown. (I am going to discount Odessa, Ukraine as well as a hometown because my Ukrainian friends will freak out if they are not included, but everyone should know that Odessa has the second best Opera house in the world)
I boiled the essence of a remarkable city down to three components:
1) It's all about the levels - the topography of the city must be varied. There should be some hills and some valleys. When the city is flat you can't appreciate the scope, one of the best parts of city life is thinking about the mass of humanity that has come together to share a small patch of earth.
Edinburgh, Prague, and Istanbul all have these amazing hills in the city where you get amazing sight lines and on the flip side when you are at the bottom looking up you get a real sense of awe.
2)Water - there needs to be some water to look at. There is something magical about watching waves crash against the shore or watching it flow along the banks with the cityscape as a backdrop. I could spend all day just sitting near a body of water watching the waves and the people around it is so relaxing.
3) Getting Around - there needs to be a way to get from point A to point B without wanting to gouge your own eye out with a spoon. Istanbul and Prague have pretty bad ass public transportation systems which get you where you need to be although 24 hour systems would be much appreciated by those who can't finish thier drinking by midnight. Edinburgh is so small that you can easily walk from anywhere to anywhere with the added bonus of finding little hidden pubs to stop off for a pint or two or three...
Bonus Round - having hundreds or thousands of years of history is a huge bonus. Standing on the same spot where a king, prince, or knight stood at some point in the past is an exhilarating feeling (at least if you are a history geek like myself). 

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Old Age New Beginnings

I recently turned 30 which has symbolic value probably based upon its roundness. Like most birthdays it's a time to reflect upon the past and make plans for the future. Most people ask if I feel older and I can't say the turning has made me feel older but over the past year I do feel a certain new maturity and I can say at one point in the last year I did truly feel elderly.
I was getting ready for work and I tried to pick something up, nothing terribly heavy but it may as well have been a small elephant for when I bent over and tried to lift (not with the legs but with the back which of course means trouble). I felt something pop in my lower back and crumpled to the floor like that awful woman from the "I've fallen and can't get up commercials" I struggled my way to bed and was incapacitated for the next 2 days. Hobbling around and relying on the kindness of friends to come and shop and cook for me. I had never felt so old than over the course of those two weeks crouching over and shuffling my feet trying to get to work.
More generally I feel a shift in terms of my adulthood, I think people go through life stages childhood, teenage years, young adulthood, and so on. I feel like I have passed from young adulthood those first years of true independence and the ability to fulfill our selfish desires and moved into a period where responsibility and empathy for others takes on a greater role.
As a birthday gift to myself and as a happy coincidence my visa in Saudi Arabia recently expired so I treated myself to a visa run to Istanbul for a few days while I wait for my employment situation to be resolved. I had been to Turkey two years ago and enjoyed my time immensely so I was more than happy to return. After a few months in Riyadh, Istanbul is a veritable oasis. I am struck by the immense differences of these two leading Muslim countries. Turkey is officially a secular country filled with Muslims  religion is a private matter for each individual to concern themselves with.  The city is littered with some of the most spectacular mosques in the world that have housed believers for hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years and the call to prayer is called 5 times per day  but life does not stop for the religion those individuals who wish to pray can pray and the rest of us can continue to eat and shop and enjoy the sights of the city. This seems to strike the right balance to me as opposed to the Kingdom's strict enforcement of all things religious. I will be back in Saudi in a few days albeit in a new city which will hopefully lead to better results.